Tuesday, May 1, 2007 11 Comments

What if there's no such thing as chaotic good?

There are some people who as teenagers were normal. Then there are some who were so socially maladjusted, so personally pathetic, and so lame in any way they can conceivably now imagine as adults, that they played D&D. Then there are some who were actually even more maladjusted, pathetic, and lame than that, and so were too socially inept to even get it together to play D&D, except on a computer which does not, I'm told, count.

Since I was in group C, I am lame enough that I know a little, but not a lot, about D&D. I suppose I could probably look it all up on La Wik, but I have some dignity.

At least as I remember it, there were two major versions of D&D. There was the original one that came in the box and the second one that was sold as books. Or something like that. I'm sure they have real names. Because you, the reader, also have some dignity, I'll just call them "1.0" and "2.0."

In both 1.0 and 2.0, your character had to have an alignment. This was one of several values - if you were a programmer, you'd call it an "enumerated type" - which basically said what kind of a guy (or elf, or dwarf, or my favorite, half-orc) you were.

It's my recollection (I swear I am writing entirely from memory - any kind of research, on any subject, is really beneath the honor of Unqualified Reservations) that in D&D 1.0, alignment was one of three values: lawful, neutral, chaotic.

By D&D 2.0, however, Gygax and/or his henchmen had realized that this didn't really span the plane of desires with which their customer base might conceivably identify. So they added another dimension: good, neutral, evil. And you could have one of nine alignments, from lawful good to chaotic evil.

Typically, of course, your average roleplayer went straight for chaotic good. At least this is my recollection. I have no numbers. (And if I did, I would delete them immediately.)

I do not have a little altar with a pewter figure of Gandalf on it. Nor am I a major consumer of incense. But I do still kind of think of myself as a lawful neutral.

(Of course, if chaotic good is the most popular alignment, lawful neutral has to be the least. This probably has something to do with my preference for it. It's an unfortunate fact that genuine unpopularity is always somehow intentional.)

As a lawful neutral, my suspicion is that it's actually not the D&D 2.0 alignment system that's a better reflection of the real world. Actually, I think, the 1.0 system may be more accurate.

Suppose there's actually no such thing as "chaotic good"? Suppose that it's just that law is good, and chaos is evil?

Let's call the D&D 1.0 alignment system (as remembered by me), and as applied not to elves and dwarves, but to the real world and the people in it, who are certainly not identical but must at least be regarded as a single species, the "linear model." Let's call the D&D 2.0 alignment system the "planar model."

Obviously, the linear model is a dimension-reduced subset of the planar model. If you believe the linear model is more accurate, therefore, you can only do so by believing the extra dimension of information added by the planar model is somehow meaningless, that it is noise, that its only effect is confusion.

How could the linear model be sufficient? How could there be no such thing as chaotic good or lawful evil?

Well, one possibility is that "chaotic good" just maps to evil, which maps right back to "chaos." That is, the only practical definition of evil is that evil is the same thing as chaos.

Since good is the opposite of evil, as chaos is the opposite of law, this answer also says that good is identical with law. Thus, "lawful good" and "chaotic evil" are tautological.

Under this hypothesis, the reason that there is actually evil in the world is just that evil consists entirely of the actions of those who consider themselves "chaotic good." These presumably regard their enemies as "lawful evil," when in fact they are just plain lawful - that is, good.

Here is the "linearist" narrative:

Evil is not the same thing as malevolence. Nor is good the same thing as benevolence. Evil and good are results, not volitions. There are people who actively pursue evil - psychopaths - but psychopaths, as an almost invariable rule, act alone. Most people spend most of their time pursuing good, and all large organizations are organized around some concept of good.

Since most of the large-scale phenomena in recent history which most of us would consider "evil" have been the result of actions of people acting within organizations, "evil" must be the result of actions which someone considered "good."

By conflating evil with malevolence, planarism derives the logical result that evil can be extinguished by eradicating malevolence. So planarists strive everywhere and at all times to think good thoughts, and to persuade others to do the same.

When planarists read and write history, they spend far too much time on the landscape of emotional attachments and airy mystical beliefs, and not enough on practical cause and effect. As in the case of religion, our sense of classification is being fed superfluous information which is meaningless and disorienting.

In our planarist society, every kind of human action has become shrouded in a vast cloud of something called "ethics," which no one can define, but no one is allowed to question. An actual holy book would be a serious improvement. Planarists these days think they've abandoned religion in favor of reason. In fact, in their endless jihad against malevolence, they have become fanatical, moralizing prigs, and their actions often do more to promote evil than to dissuade it.

Anyway. This is blatant linearist propaganda. I apologize, folks, for including this stuff. If you find it offensive, just head up to the top of the page and click "Flag This Blog."

As planarists, we have simply moved beyond linearism. The 20th was, first and foremost, the century in which man triumphed over man. Self-government was ubiquitous in this era, in which science and the arts achieved their apex and went up from there, and diversity showed every sign of becoming universal.

Progress was also seen in the word "justice," which acquired a new, more correct meaning. This word, derived originally from the Latin word for gravy, "jus," had been perverted by medieval despots, Jesuit pedophiles and serial serf-abusers, until it had come to mean something like "accurate application of all official rules." As though people were, like, robots, or something.

We have restored the word by replacing it with a new concept, which has been fully rebuilt to its exact original meaning. Sometimes to differentiate the two we call it "social justice." Social justice is about making sure the gravy all goes around, which is, of course, the original Roman meaning. Note that Rome survives to this day.

For example, our leading philosophical treatise is a book called "A Theory of Justice." This august tome does not countenance the medieval corruption in which "justice" was held to mean no more than "accurate application of the law." By "justice" its author means "social justice" and nothing else. And this usage is now general in the English language. Which is fortunate in that it can express this critical concept in such a mellifluous and succinct way. It certainly has no need for its predecessor - which never made much sense, anyway.

Social justice, of course, is the same thing as "chaotic good." So anyone who's against chaotic good must be against social justice. Which is just justice, so linearists are enemies of justice. Clearly we should be on the alert for these people...

Anyway. Obviously, I am a damned linearist. I am probably going to hell. If you are a planarist, I promise to stop trying to yank your chain. It is not polite of me.

Because the planarists are benevolent. Most people want to be chaotic good, not chaotic evil, because they are benevolent, not malevolent.

The problem is that the relationships between benevolence and good, and that between malevolence and evil, are not strong. So by using the words "good" and "evil" to mean "benevolent" and "malevolent," planarists distract themselves from real problems and real solutions.

In the UK between 1900 and 1989, as the concept of social justice moved from being the program of a political faction to a universally shared ideal, the crime rate (number of offenses known to the police, per capita) rose by a factor of 46. That is, it's not that crime, per capita, went up by 46%. It's that it went up by 4600%. (The number is now back down to 37.)

No one intended this result. No one in 1900 was saying: follow our program, build the New Jerusalem, and wonderful things will happen. Oh, except that crime will increase by a factor of 46.

I am not a big fan of statistics. History provides no controlled experiments, and expecting data from an uncontrolled experiment to tell you something is the epistemic equivalent of barebacking. But I suspect the trend in crime has something to do with with the parallel bull-market in planarism. Chaos, after all, is chaos.


Blogger The Lock said...

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

We're all well meaning but still fuck it up. I get that. I'm a social worker, so my good is way chaotic. Well at least it used to be.

Real chaos is ugly and has yellow teeth. This tends to make one retreat into evil, where expectations have great predictability. This can be a great comfort.

Maybe we need a benevolence measurement. If you score too high, you are limited to writing self-help books. That would be good, if not chaotic.

You're on to something though. Watch out for "large organizations...organized around some concept of good" They can be very helpful but often very needy. And what they need is your soul.

May 1, 2007 at 11:25 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

The trend from chaos to bureaucracy in the social service movement is fascinating indeed.

You might find this book interesting. There are a lot of historical critiques of the left around, but most of them are written by rightists, which makes them essentially unreadable to 90% of the educated population. Ellis is not in any way an apostate, just an honest historian, and that makes his book simply invaluable.

May 2, 2007 at 1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been of the opinion for a while that "Chaotic Good" is just a nonsense idea to sell the game to idle oiks who maybe read too much Rouseau, actually like a secure world and prefer their "danger" to be virtual.

*evil grin*

May 31, 2007 at 1:03 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

I have to disagree (full disclosure: I played a lot of role-playing games as a teenager). The problem with linearity is that it assumes that the consequences of order vs chaos will be predictable. Problem is, it's anything but. An orderly society is usually preferable to a dis-orderly society-- except when that order has been perverted a'la the Nazis or Communists. Likewise, the person who seeks to subvert public order does no one any favors-- except when that order needs subverting. That's not even counting all those situations where bad things have accidentally had good consequences and vice-versa.

In short, consequences are just that; consequences. The only way they can define us is if we find out that our actions have had bad consequences and refuse to change them.

A chaotic good person may be someone who's naturally chaotic, but wants to help people-- possibly insane, but not evil. Or he may be someone who's seen law and order mostly in their negative aspects (bullying, supression of creativity, etc) and thus chose chaos as a logical (to him, anyway) path of goodness.

Another disclosure: I actually see myself as Neutral Good. An alignment which has no meaning if good is tied irrevokably to law and order, so I may be a bit biased here.

November 10, 2007 at 5:33 PM  
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Blogger James A. Donald said...

lawful evil: communists or nazis.

chaotic evil: the random thugs who cleared the whites out of Detroit.

There is a difference, and chaotic evil can do quite a lot of damage, if perhaps less than lawful evil.

Lawful evil: Al Quaeda

Chaotic evil: Sudden Jihad Syndrome.

Again, a considerable difference.

Lawful Good: Queen Elizabeth the first, under whose law abiding and low tax reign, England first became prosperous and began to become great.

Chaotic Good: Sir Walter Raleigh, whose piratical adventures did much to render the realm safe for honest men, and dangerous for its enemies.

Again, a considerable difference.

May 14, 2011 at 9:16 PM  

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